Lesson Plan

Characteristics of Animals


In this lesson, students will describe and identify characteristics of animals. Students will:

  • discuss different characteristics of animals for survival.

  • identify adaptations that animals use for their survival.

  • identify how animals adapt to different environments.

  • observe an aquarium or terrarium.

  • explore characteristics of ants and how they survive in their environment.

Essential Questions


  • Adaptations: Alterations or adjustments in structure or habits, often hereditary, by which a species or individual improves its condition in relationship to its environment.

  • Characteristics: A feature that helps to identify, tell apart, or describe recognizably; a distinguishing mark or trait.


60–90 minutes/2–3 class periods

Prerequisite Skills

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Formative Assessment

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    • Make observations while circulating around the room, observing whether students are engaged with different discussions.

    • Individually assess if students participate in the favorite animal discussion, work together in an Animal Characteristics activity, and help participate, record, or present in sharing the information.

    • Observe students during interactive discussions.

Suggested Instructional Supports

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    Scaffolding, Active Engagement, Modeling, Explicit Instruction

    Students will engage in activities to identify and describe characteristics that help animals survive. They will research a favorite animal and examine native animals and their characteristics.


    Students will begin to understand how animals adapt to help them survive. Students will be engaged in the lesson by participating and observing in discussions about animals.


    Students will work in individual and in small groups exploring animal characteristics. They will model and describe the importance of animals’ characteristics for their survival.


    Students will share ideas with the class. Students will also work in small groups. This will provide an opportunity to ask guided questions to help students understand concepts.


    Group discussions and models will help determine whether students understand the lesson. Additional practice and teaching will be provided as needed.


    Large group discussions, small group investigations, and independent research are activities in this lesson designed to meet student needs. This lesson plan is flexible and gives students time to interact with peers and utilize creative thinking.


    Students are engaged and can participate in many ways. They can participate in discussions with peers, or individual learning tasks. Students will demonstrate an understanding of these concepts in various ways that are developmentally appropriate and engaging.

Instructional Procedures

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    Have students think about their favorite animal. Have these three questions posted on the board:

    • What kind of environment do they live in?”

    • How do they survive in their environment?”

    • What adaptations help them survive in their environment?”

    Show students a picture of a giant panda as an example (S-3-2-1_Panda Picture.doc). You can choose a different animal if you like. An animal that I like is the Giant Panda. What do you think the giant panda needs for survival?” Give background for the Giant Panda: “China is the only natural habitat of the Giant Panda. In cloudy forests where bamboo grows, the environment is cool and wet. Giant Pandas are actually carnivores, but they have adapted and depend on eating bamboo because that is what is available in their environment. The giant pandas have large and strong jaws along with large molar teeth to chomp and eat through large bamboo trees or large bamboo branches. The giant panda’s paw has a thumb and five fingers. The thumb that belongs to the giant panda’s paw helps it eat bamboo easily. If the panda did not have a thumb, it would mean that the panda would have great difficulty eating bamboo.”

    More information about the Giant Panda can be found at: www.worldwildlife.org. Now I want you to think about a favorite animal. Let’s read these questions together again and see if you can answer them about your favorite animal.” Display the following questions on a chart or board What kind of environment does the animal live in? How does it survive in their environment? What adaptations help it survive in its environment?” Students may need time in a computer lab looking up information about their favorite animal or have access to books in a library. Give 15 minutes to look up information. Have students share information about their animal.

    Activity 1

    Can you think of some animals that are native to Pennsylvania?” Have students think of different ideas. Show pictures of a few Pennsylvania animals. Split kids into eight groups, or use fewer pictures if you want larger groups. Give each group a picture of a Pennsylvania animal and a recording sheet (S-3-2-1_Pennsylvania Animal Pictures.doc) and (S-3-2-1_Pennsylvania Animal Recording Sheet.doc). Explain to students what you want them to do. Have them decide who is going to record the information. Read the questions on the sheet and explain what you are looking for. Give about ten minutes for students to discuss and record. When time is almost up, survey the groups to see if they need more time. Once completed, have students share information about their animal and any personal experiences they may have had.

    Activity 2

    Introduce the author Lindsay Barrett George’s books. Information about her can be found at: http://www.lindsaybarrettgeorge.com. Have students look at her different books. Introduce the book In the Woods: Who’s Been Here? “Today we are going to be looking for clues to help us discover what bird or animal has been in the woods. We are going to follow William and Cammy on this journey. The kids decide to go for a walk on a path. Along the way, the children see different animals and their habitats.Read the story and have interactive discussions throughout the story.

    Now we are going to go around the school and see who has been here? It is our job to be animal detectives and see if any animals left us clues. We are going to stay together and look very carefully at plants, trees, and the surroundings to see what animals live near our school.When back in the classroom record information that the animal detectives discovered. Identify clues that they saw. Remind students that animals have certain characteristics that help them survive.


    • Students who might need an opportunity for additional learning can research an animal and its habitat. Have students report on the animal’s characteristics and how the characteristics help it survive.

    • Students who are going beyond the standards can research the ideal pet for the class. Research the necessary diet, environment, and rules for a class pet.

Related Instructional Videos

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DRAFT 11/15/2010
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